You can blame 007 for the controversy. That infamous line from the movie Casino Royale led to one of the most enduring debates in all of cocktaildom. Suave spy James Bond tells the bartender how to make his favorite cocktail, and instructs him to “shake it very well until it’s ice-cold.”
The drink is eventually named the Vesper, and was made of gin, vodka and Kina Lillet—it was not a classic Martini. And the “shaken, not stirred” line shows up later in the movies. People may ask for their Martinis this way now because they wish they were Bond or they just want to sound cool, but they are doing themselves—and their cocktail—a disservice.
To shake or to stir?
You should shake cocktails whose ingredients include fresh juice, cream, egg whites or anything viscous. Stirring should be used for cocktails that are made only from spirits and other clear ingredients that mix easily. Here’s why.
Shaking does, indeed, chill a drink more quickly than stirring, but it does so at the expense of more dilution from the melted ice in the shaker. Think about it: The reason it’s colder is because the ice melted more quickly, so now there is more water in the cocktail. This is fine with many drinks where that water won’t be noticed, like any of the sours or tropical drinks that contain juice.
The benefit of shaking, though, is that it aerates juice and cream, and will mix thicker ingredients like egg whites or honey more efficiently than stirring. Aerated juice tastes better, and the texture of cream drinks is lightened during shaking; think whipped cream. As for the efficiency of mixing thicker ingredients, shaking achieves something that might never happen if you stirred the drink.
Why is dilution so bad? It isn’t—a modicum of dilution is necessary for any cocktail to taste good. A small amount of water “opens up” a spirit and frees some of the aromatic molecules that would otherwise stay bonded to alcohol molecules. This is why whiskey distillers recommend a adding a splash of water or one ice cube.
But if you shake a Martini or Manhattan, there is too much dilution from the melting ice, and it thins out the drink. I have heard Martinis described as “velvety,” and “leaden.”
That dense, viscous mouth feel can only come from stirring the cocktail with large, cold ice cubes that will get the drink colder with less dilution.
Stirring also keeps the drink crystal-clear, evoking a bygone nickname for the Gin Martini, a “See-through.” A perfectly made Martini should look like liquid mercury in a glass.
A Stirring Conclusion
Now, I love shaking cocktails. It’s fun, and showy, and is the only way to make a great Margarita or Whiskey Sour.
But the calm, almost Zen-like state that you and your guest are lulled into during the stirring of a Manhattan—well, it’s a shared moment of craftsmanship with your deliberate actions heightening the guest’s anticipation for a great cocktail.
Of course, if the guest wants their Manhattan shaken, not stirred, I’ll do it for them without hesitation. But I’ll lie in wait for a chance to show them what a great Manhattan really is. ·
The Ice is Right
The same type of ice for stirring is also right kind for shaking drinks. That’s because large, cold cubes allow you to shake the drink longer, making it colder, with less dilution than you’ll get from dinky ice “cubes.” So even though a shaken drink will be more diluted by definition than a stirred one, larger ice cubes will result in a more intensely-flavored cocktail.